Theatre Review Patch-Pulse Of Worthy Reachable-Events
Chinglish …SCR : 5 Decades of 1st Rate Live Theater Continues With a Uniquely Wise Provocative Comedy With Bite & Heart
By Joseph Sirota
We’re surely fortunate our warm O.C./Long Beach/ South Bay communities offer nature's outdoor activities along the mighty Pacific, plus parklands, deserts, hills and mountains. But, we're equally lucky to also be in close reach of plentiful man-made Top-Grade Entertainment (Arts/Music/Theatrical/ & other cultural genres. When I enjoy as worthy a theatrical "find" as SCR's current production of Chinglish, I must spread the word to not let a 30-40 minute trip keep you from "gems" that 90% of the globe just plain can't reach without hours of long distance transportation. It's curious to see on which coast a "HIT" play was born (on east coast, reaching here later, vs. our Coast's birthing a new-born show that one Broadway recognition later. SCR (South Coast Rep) newest opening, "Chinglish" is a rarity regarding bragging rites of finding this writer, because he, David Henry Hwang is a true Bi-Coastal fellow, who got a Tony (& Drama Desk, & Pulitzer finalist...etc - all back east at a young age, for his brilliant play M. Butterfly in 1988.) But Hwang has family roots out here, and attended Stanford University, and he has a Writers Institute at nationally known East/West Players Theatre (Los Angeles). In 1998, Hwang's fine play Golden Child did premier at SCR. Regardless of which coast loves him more (L.A.. is closer than New York to China ...isn't it - I'm not sure, we didn't study maps in Brooklyn. I'd
say it's his strikingly wise, funny, yet insightful plays that stand tall and strong on either coast, and ultimately world-wide. Chinglish surely rests on solid/diverse talent that will quite probably have you laughing and smiling, all the way through. Well, perhaps laughs are interrupted when you realize you've also been captivated by the poignancy and thought-provoking feelings (& values) conveyed in each character you've started to know & understand more and more meaningfully, as the play moves forward, ever increasing our interest, and understanding.
Just a brief "snapshot" of the "plot" is all that's necessary for the "core" story structure. Fear not, it won't ruin this play (not a who-dunnit.) Central is Daniel, a low-key middle-aged businessman from Ohio, who's fallen on hard times after unlucky past jobs he had, and now his small "Custom-Signs" factory isn't hitting on all cylinders due to the sluggish Midwest capitalist economy. But at least, it's all his company now, so it's his time to step up to the plate and hit a homerun for him and his family. Happily, Dan's stumbled on an oddly funny "problem" in "business signs" right in time to expand sales to the biggest, fastest-growing country on earth -- CHINA! Their shift to Capitalism has business & governmental buildings/offices/restaurants ... even toilets, increasing in number many times beyond his sleepy local Midwest marketing arena. Simply said, Chinese signs, thus far attempted in English (the world's almost universal tongue) have faulty translations leading to errors and often embarrassment. Like instead of reminding all hands must be washed before leaving restrooms, it might demand all pants must be off before returning to work. Sometimes it's the idiom that rues the day. Where our sign says, we're happy you "Dropped-By" our restaurant over the EXIT, their translation might end up in slang as saying "We're Happy you Dropped-Dead in our restaurant. So-- China, needs lots better signs, and our Dan needs lots more Sales of signs. On his first trip, Dan finds Peter, an educated British lover of Chinese culture who's been teaching English to Upper-class teens for years, Dan feels Peter's an angel (Knows both languages, has high class connections, wants a chance to make more than teaching money. What a "fit". Peter even brings the Chinese City Minister Cai who owes him a favor. Hallelujah!
Director Leigh Silverman and cast of seven combine to do full justice to writer, Mr Hwang's creation -- bringing to our hearts, minds and funny-bones, his multifaceted work. Partly, this was because it's a terrific talented cast & Director, with nary a flat or unimportant line or moment in the two hours. They also benefited by Director, leading lady and one actor having performed in this play on that other coast mentioned, and that really helps for the complexities of this dual-lingual, demanding, oft, rapid fire play. The third reason for the shinning success of this production is the author was sitting right there on pre & opening days -- and I'm sure he has some very fine ideas to contribute by now. He's also a good son, and came by to see his parents who I'm certain are proud indeed -- and don't forget, he's got to get over to the worthy East/West Players Theatre in Los Angeles, where I think he also has much to catch up with. The fourth reason for the play's worthy-&-then-some quality/impact is the always superb Behind-The-Stage Team that truly makes every SCR show achieve its very best. This time they had "Double-Sets of Revolving Stages" -- worth the price of admission to see work flawlessly in action. It made the intimate size stage (which really helps you "BE-RIGHT-THERE"), yet also fit in a handsome sized and artistic setting in each and every scene. Bravo to David Korins(Scenic), Nancy Palmatier/Anita Yavich(Costume), Brian MacDevitt(Lighting), Darron West(Sound). Key Fabulous Projection by Jeff Sugg/Shawn Duan.
Cast: As good as it gets: Michelle Krusiec as Xi Yan, shines unforgettably in her key role, thanks to her remarkable ability to arc from one aspect of her role to another. Whether a straightly focused business woman assigned to a specific program, to far broader strategic goals, don't underestimate this radiant, can-do femme. Alex Moggridge convincingly wins our interest and caring as a seemingly decent business guy, trying to finally have a chance to not fall victim to bad economies, or shady past bosses. We root for him on this last chance for success, as we start to fear he will again be side-tracked in the tangled game of business-- especially in a far different land. Brian Nishii delivers a dear emotionally rich performance, as a complex man who has the heart and soul of a teacher and student of cultures and ethical guidelines. He believes if he helps you & yours, he will similarly be rewarded. But is he sturdy enough to withstand what he deems unfairness. Raymond Ma is the Chinese Minister of a small but longstanding territory. His political/business power seems admirable to outsiders, but he is balancing Old vs. New Ways every day. What is he thinking? Will he survive? Austin Ku, Celeste Den and Vivian Chiu play several roles. As translators at American/Chinese business meetings they contribute delightful comic relief indeed. As author Hwang's peek at the future, their footsteps are illuminating, albeit, not always "joyful". From his plays & opening(Q & A), Hwang's Rolling view:You can't always get what you want- But..if..
=>Chinglish @ South Coast Rep, 600 Town Ctr Dr, Costa Mesa. Sched: Sun & Tue evenings at 7:30pm, Wed thru Sat eves at 8:pm, Sat & Sun matinees @ 2:30pm Closes Feb 24. Tkts: $20-$58/student,/teacher/senior/group discounts. (714) 708-5555 or Online: www.scr.org